John Fetterman has a lot of money — other people’s money, as it turns out. His campaign is using it to launch PR Scud missiles against his Republican opponent in the Pennsylvania senatorial race, Dr. Mehmet Oz. 

Much of the criticism is what you would normally expect from a heated political campaign: attacks against Oz’s wealth, his high-profile television career, his conduct during the Covid crisis, his ties to Pennsylvania and his “crudités” faux pas. (With respect to the veggies, fair is fair. Conservatives got a lot of mileage out of “born with a platinum spoon in his mouth” John Kerry asking for Swiss cheese on his steak-wit. So I won’t fault them for playing that cringe moment on a loop.)

But there is one avenue of attack that I cannot excuse, given who I am and the work that I do. That avenue is bigotry, subliminal at times, but visceral and incredibly damaging.

As an immigration lawyer, I understand that there is a strain of xenophobia among conservatives. They can protest all they want that they support “legal” immigration and “doing it the right way,” but I’ve been at this too long to miss the dog whistles and the inherent nativist bias common to a small but passionate percentage of my tribe. If I pretend it’s not there to placate the family, and get more clicks on my columns and more likes on social media, I am doing a huge disservice to the people who trust me to help them navigate the murky, troubled waters of our current immigration system.

READ MORE — Christine Flowers: Fetterman’s political menu — chopped veggies and class envy

In fact, I remember thinking during the primaries when Oz’s opponents in the GOP were raising his dual citizenship as some bogeyman that this was a dangerous slope. A writer in the Washington Examiner suggested that the doctor “had decades to disassociate himself” from the troubling behavior Turkey has exhibited, forgetting that Turkey is a member of NATO and, until quite recently, an ally. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cast the same doubt on his candidacy. There were anti-Muslim memes on social media during the GOP primaries, reminiscent of what I saw during the “Muslim Ban” days. It caused Oz to actually explain his faith, which no American should ever be forced to do.

With Republican friends like these, who needs Democrat enemies?

Well, Oz may not need them, but he’s got them. The twitterverse has been filled with attacks on his heritage, and Fetterman has been silent. He has allowed his proxies to question Oz’s loyalty to this country. One of his supporters, Mark Frauenfelder described Oz as a “Snake oil grifter…a Turkish citizen living in New Jersey who is running for Senate in Pennsylvania.” Fetterman has remained silent. A random fellow on Twitter named, blandly enough, “Bob Smith,” wrote this: “Oh puleeeez. Why do u want a Muslim from Turkey to be the Senator for PA. You obviously want Sharia law! Follow the Quran.” This was, of course, a troll. But it is typical of the things you see on Fetterman’s social media supporters.

Let’s clear things up. Oz is a native-born American, which means that he qualifies to run for president one day if he chooses. That brings to mind the controversy surrounding Barack Obama, who was also born in America but who was suspected of being a foreigner. I was disgusted with the birther comments from Republicans fifteen years ago, not only because they were factually wrong but because they showed immense ignorance of the law. Interestingly enough, Democrats who rightly condemned that political tactic in 2008 are suspiciously silent this time around. There is the repellent suggestion that because he has dual citizenship, Mehmet Oz has divided loyalties. And that bespeaks a nativism and xenophobia that has found a fertile home in the Fetterman campaign.

I also remember years ago when a woman at a John McCain rally called Obama a Muslim. The late senator pushed back, gently but firmly and said that he was a “good man” and not a Muslim. Again, John Fetterman has said nothing to counter the attacks on Oz, either from his own people or Republicans.

Given the background of Fetterman’s wife Giselle, herself an immigrant and a woman of exceptional talents and accomplishments, it’s particularly distasteful. 

People will continue to attack Oz for a variety of things, all of which are fair game. His devotion to this country, based solely on his heritage, is not one of them. 

It’s inexplicable that Fetterman would allow his people to engage in subversive and divisive rhetoric against Mehmet Oz, whose parents emigrated to the US in the late 1950s so that his father could build a medical practice at a time when this country was suffering from a lack of doctors. Oz described his current relationship with Turkey this way in an op-ed in the Washington Examiner:

“In retirement, my parents spent more time in their homeland. I maintained my Turkish citizenship in order to visit them more easily. This became more critical after my mother’s Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis soon after my father’s death. As anyone who has a loved one with Alzheimer’s knows, changing surroundings is harmful to the patient’s treatment and care… Despite my mother’s failing memory, and similar to most immigrants to our shores, she adores America and appreciates the wonderful life our people gave her here.”

That doesn’t sound like someone with divided loyalties.

People will continue to attack Oz for a variety of things, all of which are fair game. His devotion to this country, based solely on his heritage, is not one of them. 

Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61

9 thoughts on “Christine Flowers: Fetterman must condemn his supporters’ nativism”

  1. In December 2015, Donald made a drastic call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” It’s on videotape. They weren’t “dog whistles.” He flat out called it a Muslim ban and was cheered on at every rally. He called it a Muslim ban at his rallies, he said this in interviews. Rudy Giuliani said that he helped Trump by devising a scheme to make Trump’s Muslim ban legal. There’s at least a dozen times Trump called it a Muslim ban. Trump has two immigrant wives who endorsed Trump’s xenophobia. Christine, you voted for Trump twice.

    1. You said it better than anyone could. The cognitive dissonance of the radical regressive right knows no limits.

  2. As usual, Christine Flowers is making a mountain out of a molehill – or in this case, an anthill. There is no anti-Muslim rhetoric coming from the Fetterman campaign. Flowers is truly reaching when she blames people on Twitter who have brought up Oz’s Turkish citizenship – which is a legitimate discussion to have. Flowers who has a slight cleverness in some of her writing has a huge flaw. She harbors gigantic outrage over a handful of topics that really get under her skin. Anything that questions Catholicism, anything that questions her anti-choice position, anything that questions her meal ticket (immigrants and immigration) among them. Amazingly, she engages with the lowest forms of life on Twitter and will go back and forth with the people who call her some of the most vile names. But anyone who actually challenges her intellectually gets blocked immediately. In every subject like the one here in which Flowers has this outrage, she takes the same position. She makes unsubstantiated and exaggerated assertions, stands firm in her position and makes it clear that there is no argument, counterpoint or discussion to be had. Your readers deserve better.

    1. At least Christine uses her real name. Sadly, those who criticize her hide in the shadows. And the bigotry in the suggestion that helping immigrants is a meal ticket is outrageous. Broad and Liberty, vet your commenters better.

      1. Again with the unsubstantiated, concrete assertions and fake outrage. Meal Ticket – a person or thing that is used as a source of regular income. I suppose you will now call the Oxford dictionary “bigoted”.

        1. Ah Margaret, I know you are upset that I blocked you. Calm down, there is life after social media.❤️

          1. Not upset at all. As I stated in the first comment, you only block those who you aren’t a match for intellectually. If I sunk to your level and used insults and childish names you wouldn’t block me. And quite frankly, I have a 2nd Twitter account which I don’t use to comment. Just to monitor you and call you out in forums such as these where you can’t block me or those who rationally challenge you. Hopefully, you feel better now that you posted your version of this exchange on Twitter. Your need for your followers to bolster your fake outrage rivals your need for your followers comments on your endless selfies. But, whatever floats your boat.

  3. Christine Flowers omits crucial facts about Mehmet Oz’s relationships with Turkey. He is not just a citizen. He also served in the Turkish military; he owns property there; and he voted there as recently as 2018. He also receives substantial income from the Turkish national airlines, which is partly owned by the Turkish government.

    Pointing out these facts doesn’t attack Oz as an immigrant or a Muslim. Rather they become even harder to understand in light of the fact that he was actually born in the United States. How many other Americans decide to live here but vote in a foreign country and serve in the military there? What does that tell us about who he will consider his constituents if elected to the U.S. Senate?

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